Someday, kid, you’re gonna be a star!

JISHOU, HUNAN — So, I’ve been a little busy these last three weeks. Classes started just two days after I arrived, then the freshmen started two weeks later, doubling my class hours. Oh, and then I was asked to act in a movie.

Hounded by reporters, I enter a local hotel

Hounded by reporters, I enter a local hotel. Photo by Li Dongling

Before you all get too excited, this is probably not a movie you’ll see in America, on TV, the theaters or DVD. It’s what they call in China a “micro-movie” — a 45-minute teleplay for the web only. In fact, it’s half a promotion for the local tourism scene and half a comedy-romance.

Two weeks ago, my foreign affairs officer Cyril Hu called me to ask if I had time to appear in a movie about Xiangxi, the prefecture of which Jishou is the capital. I agreed, figuring it would be a one-day TV thing, no big deal.

Then I met the director, 陈晓曦 Chen XiaoXi, and a few members of his crew, all from Beijing. His assistant, Xiao Hong, and one of my seniors, Li Dongling, served as interpreters. I was to be a foreigner who comes here looking for the “empress of Xiangxi.” It would not be a speaking part, and I would have to provide my own wardrobe. There is still some question whether I will be paid very much, if at all.

Instead of a one-day TV thing, they would need me at least three days, because they were shooting a movie over the course of two weeks. They asked if I had any experience acting.

Discounting three decades of performing in front of students, I said, “Yes, but very little.” I did a small part my first year here for Hunan Economic TV in a travelogue, and before I came to China, I was an extra in the Hannah Montana movie, for which I was paid $65.

(I will spare you the pain of watching the Hannah Montana movie. You can’t see me, or at least I haven’t seen me. Maybe you can see the sign I was holding and waving in the air. Maybe.)

That was enough, and I got the part.

On Wednesday we filmed at the Xiangxi Minzu Hotel. One scene was the one above: as I pull up in my chauffeured car, I’m greeted by a mob of reporters and photographers, and security guards hold them off while I walk to the elevator. Another scene was in the elevator with the male and female leads (plus a sound man, a gaffer, the director and a cameraman). Also, we shot a scene where I and the female lead meet the male lead bringing the “empress” to the hotel, and finally, the female lead and I sign a contract for something — I’m a little hazy on the details still.

The contract signing scene

The contract signing scene Photo by Li Dongling

The next day we all got to bake in the sunshine and 90°F heat in Century Square for “crowd scenes” as we “watched” a performance by the female lead at a drum festival. Not very coincidentally, this weekend is the Second Annual Jishou International Drum Festival, so the square was already full of drums and high school students drumming them.

A hundred drummers drumming

A hundred drummers drumming Photo by Li Dongling

I have the weekend off, but Monday I have other scenes to film.

Director Chen (below), has done two other web micro-movies. One is about the doting father of a partially paralyzed boy who learns how to play the piano with his toes. And the other is the first episode of 一次性爱上 (yi cixing ai shang) — which can be translated as “A One-time Love” or “Love at First Sight” — which came out in 2013.

Director ChenXiaoXi

Director ChenXiaoXi Photo by Li Dongling

We are now filming the second episode of 一次性爱上.

In part one, a young woman, played by 曲同雨 (Qu TongYu — below), strikes a deal with her overbearing lover. If he will let her visit the Jishou area (Xiangxi), she will give her dream of playing the violin professionally. There, she visits the scenic towns of Aizhai and Fenghuang and meets a man who convinces her to ditch her lover and follow her dream.

Actress Qu Tongyu and my student Li Dongling

Actress Qu Tongyu and my student Li Dongling

In part two, Qu Tongyu returns as the aspiring violinist to Xiangxi with her new boyfriend, played by 花昆 (Hua Kun — below), and along the way, they meet my character (Jason) and the “empress of Xiangxi.”

Hua Kun, the male lead

Hua Kun, the male lead

Both episodes highlighted the scenic areas of Xiangxi, including the impressive Aizhai Suspension Bridge and the ancient quarter of Fenghuang, a national treasure. As I said, the movies are a not-so-subtle way to introduce the splendors of Xiangxi to a national audience.

You can watch the first episode of 一次性爱上 here; there are subtitles in English. Director Chen’s first web movie, 半音 (banyin — Half-Step) is also on the Internet. Hopefully, you’ll be able to see them in the States.

I’m going to upload more photos into my Facebook and Google+ albums, if I can manage the climb the Great Firewall of China, so you can see more there if you’re so inclined.

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